Monday, January 31, 2011

The Negro President

I)       Political factions

)    Political parties – what we today recognize as political parties, George Washington labeled political factions—and did not permit them in his government. Washington saw political factions as dangerous and divisive. Others were just as adamant about the dangers of political factions, including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson; however, these factions developed anyway.

1)      Federalists – believed in a strong central government. Federalists also were leery of popular democracy, which they say as just as dangerous as a weak central government. Federalist also tended to favor business interests in the large seaboard cities

(a)    Alexander Hamilton – first secretary of the Treasury under Washington; Hamilton was responsible for  getting New York to pass the new Constitution, which he had helped Madison formulate, and which he was partly responsible for arguing for in the Federalist Papers.

(b)   John Adams – first vice-president under Washington, for whom he served two terms. When Washington decided not to seek a third term, Adams automatically became the candidate for President. Since there were no political parties (or at least none until Washington died), there was no opposition for Adams to run against.

(i)     French Revolution – the French Revolution was running its course during this time period. Adams, like many other Federalist, was an Anglophile, and a Francophobe (meaning that he admired most things British, and disliked most things French). During his presidency, he saw the passage of the Alien and Sedition Act, which was to prevent French revolutionists from entering the country. Many men who belonged to the opposition party in the United States (who had begun to call themselves the Democratic-Republicans) were also targeted for harassment by the law, and greatly resented this fact.

2)      Democratic-Republicans – most of the members of this party had opposed the passage of the new Constitution, although the party was also attracting disaffected Federalists, as well.

(a)    Democratic-Republican agenda – the Democratic-Republicans believed that the power of the central government should be limited, because a big, powerful government was prone to corruption (which was proven, in their eyes, by the corruption of just recently overthrown British government).

(b)   Thomas Jefferson – Jefferson became the de facto leader of the party, since he was the most prominent politician among them.

(c)    James Madison – the main architect of the Constitution, Madison saw himself—and was seen by many others—as the heir of Jefferson. Jefferson seemed to view Madison’s role in the Constitution as a temporary aberration, which Madison himself would probably have agreed upon.

II)    The New Government

A)    Articles of Confederation – power of the central government was severely restricted; often times, the central government was completely at the mercy of the states, who retained most of the political power at this time.

B)     Passage of the Constitution – by changing the rules of the game in the midst of play, backers of the Constitution managed to get it passed (since unanimous consent of the states was not longer required). Probably the only reason this happened was because George Washington and Benjamin Franklin lent their prestige to the event by participating.

1)      The Slavery Question – many historians have argued through the years that the Constitution ignored the slavery question, because the word slave or slavery does not occur in the Constitution; however, closer examination reveals that the document favored slavery, and its expansion.

(a)    3/5ths Clause – to appease slaveholders in the South, particularly in South Carolina and Georgia, but also much of the rest of the region, as well, a clause was placed in the Constitution which proclaimed that for the purposes of Congressional apportionment, each unfree person would be counted as 3/5ths of a person. By 1850, this meant that the state of Pennsylvania, which had a larger white population than six southern states combined, had two senators, while these six states had twelve; inevitably, as well, the combined number of US representatives would be greater, as well—something that would not have occurred had the number of representatives been pegged to the number of electors (or voters) that each state had.

(b)   Rise of Slave Power – this does not refer to any power slaves themselves had, but rather the control of the federal government that slave owners in the South could exercise as a result of their control of political power because of this clause granting them greater power.

C)     Expansion of the Nation

1)      The Northwest Territories – it became obvious that new states would eventually be carved out of the country north and west of the Ohio River; how this territory would be incorporated into the nation, and whether slavery would be allowed in the area, was open to question.

(a)    1783 – Timothy Pickering proposed that the area, with few white settlers at this time, be allowed to join the union; he also included a clause which would abolish slavery in the western territories.

(b)   1784 – Thomas Jefferson proposed that the area be incorporated, and that slavery be abolished from the territory in 1800—which would have allowed slavery a fifteen year period to establish itself, and which would have proven difficult to eradicate once it was permitted, most historians now agree.

(i)     This duality in Jefferson is seen over and over. It seems that he recognizes the inhumanity of slavery, but at the same time wanted to carve out some political power for slaveholders that would allow them to maintain the institution of slavery for as long as they (and he) wished.

2)      Timothy Pickering – born near Salem, Massachusetts, Pickering became in time the most persistent thorn in Jefferson’s side, and one constantly reminding  the nation of Jefferson’s failure to live up to his own high standards. It is perhaps for this reason that Pickering is largely forgotten today, when we prefer to remember Jefferson for his high ideals, instead of recognizing the frequent failures of the man to maintain those standards.

(a)    War Hero – unlike Jefferson, Pickering actually served in the military during the war, first as a member of the Massachusetts militia, and later as the Quartermaster of the Army for Washington.

(b)   Indian negotiator – Pickering also was adamant about dealing fairly with various Indian peoples, sometimes at great personal danger to himself (from dissatisfied whites, who often felt that he favored Indian peoples in the negotiations).

(i)     Treaty of Greenville – Pickering was part of the negotiating team, and insisted that the US government seek peace, and not more territory (The treaty line left Indians in control of much of northern Ohio, although it did allow white settlement south of the line)

(c)    Abolitionist – as we can tell from his proposal for the Northwest Territory, Pickering was an early abolitionist.

(i)     Saint Dominique (Haiti) – Pickering, as the Secretary of State for President John Adams, encouraged the political recognition of the revolutionary government in Saint Dominique; he encouraged Toussaint to send a representative to Washington, which he did (a mulatto named Joseph Bunel, who in fact dined with Adams—much to the disgust of many Southern politicians). In part, this was driven by Pickering’s distrust of the French, but also by Pickering’s admiration for what Toussaint had been able to accomplish. Pickering also encouraged the US government’s recognition of Bunel as consul for Saint Dominique, which was a precursor of complete recognition of the independence of the country. This was overturned a year and a half later, when Jefferson became president as gave assurances to Napoleon that the US would assist France in re-asserting control over Saint Dominque—and re-establishing slavery. That Dessaline was able to defeat the French forces and establish an independent country—run by former slaves—is something that most US historians tend to overlook; perhaps because of the despicable role that the country and one of our heroes, Jefferson, played in that event.

III) The Election of 1800

A)    John Adams – despite David McCollough’s recent biography, Adams usually comes off as second best in popularity contests with Jefferson—but this was not the case in 1800, because Adams actually won more votes than Jefferson. He lost the electoral vote, however.

B)     Aaron Burr – Burr had agreed to stand as the vice-presidential candidate with Jefferson. However, through a quirk in the electoral college system, he was tied with Jefferson with electoral votes (this quirk was fixed by the 12th Amendment, which designated more clearly the candidacy of president and vice-president). This meant, however, that the election for president was thrown to the House of Representatives, where the greater representation of the slaveholding South, due to the 3/5ths clause, gave the election to a fellow slaveholder.

IV) Conclusion

A)    Inaugural speech – “We are all Democratic Republicans, we are all Federalists.” Realizing that Jefferson’s deep-seated feelings about slavery makes it more understandable for his position on the Louisiana Purchase—where he greatly exceeded his authority as president, certainly for a Democratic-Republican president who “believed” in restricting the power of the Federal government—in gaining more territory which could safely be made new slaveholding territory, since a slaveholding Southwest had to counteract a free Northwest. In many ways, Jefferson is perhaps the quintessential American: one who espouses high ideals, but acts to preserve his economic interests first and foremost.

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